Mouthing Off

When the Wynkoop Brewing Company started up back in 1988, no one had a clue how big the microbrewery business would become. Or, for that matter, how big the Wynkoop would get: Today it's the nation's largest brewpub. But on opening day, the crowds flocked to that lonely LoDo outpost at 18th and Wynkoop streets, and they've been coming ever since. So have other brewpubs: In the past six years, eight more have opened in downtown Denver.

Meanwhile, the Wynkoop kept growing, sometimes like Topsy, with informal consulting stakes in brewpubs across the country. But over the past year the Wynkoop's been getting its house in order, first merging with Phantom Canyon, the brewpub it helped found in Colorado Springs in 1993; then hiring president Jim Caruso (once the youngest regional vice president of a Village Inn, for what that's worth) and CFO Barbara Burrell to craft a long-term business plan; and finally, over the past several months, completing two private placements to raise a total of $5.2 million.

With that money, the Wynkoop plans a more orderly, but no less ambitious, project to found a chain of brewpubs in historic buildings across the country, all with local co-owners. The lineup thus far: Wynkoop; Phantom Canyon; Nail City Brewing Company in Wheeling, West Virginia; Upstream Brewing Company in Omaha, Nebraska; Titletown Brewing Company in Green Bay, Wisconsin; Beach Chalet Brewing Company, which poured its first pint New Year's Day in San Francisco; and Des Moines's Raccoon River Brewing Company, which opened May 12. After that, Wynkoop has its sights set on sites in Evansville, Indiana; Buffalo, New York; Jersey City, New Jersey; another San Francisco location; Springfield, Missouri; and Stamford, Connecticut. By 2000, the Wynkoop aims to be operating 34 brewpubs and a dozen small satellites.

Pretty good for a company founded by a couple of unemployed geologists--John Hickenlooper (who swore at Wednesday's announcement that he was cutting back on outside involvements) and Jerry Williams--along with Barbara Macfarlane, Martha Williams, chef Mark Schiffler and the late Russell Schehrer.

While the homegrown Wynkoop joins the chain gang, another link in a California chain opened last Thursday in Park Meadows, to which it promises to bring "serious fun." Seriously. Corporate sibling to the California Cafe (see review, above), the Alcatraz Brewing Co. boasts that it serves the "best beer behind bars," thanks to brewmaster Mark Thompson. But the pub also takes its food "seriously," according to executive chef Chris Kinney. Let's just hope the Alcatraz doesn't suffer from the same production problems that plague the California Cafe--that would be the real crime.


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